Scrabble/Endgame

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The following gives techniques and strategies that expert players often employ during the endgame. They are especially crucial in close endgames, where any mistake can lead to a loss of the game.

Tile tracking[edit]

Tile tracking is the process of crossing off which tiles have been played throughout the course of the game. Most tournament players who track use a pre-printed tracking sheet, containing all 100 tiles. While some view tracking as cheating and similar to "counting cards," this practice is allowed and encouraged in tournament play.

The advantages of tracking are:

  • Knowledge of your opponent's rack when the bag is empty
  • Knowledge of the tile distribution mid-game (e.g. whether the bag is vowel-heavy or consonant-heavy)

Disadvantages of tracking are:

  • Tracking takes some time to get used to. One has to remember to track every single move -- a mistake in tracking can lead to poor endgame play.
  • Tracking can take away time from the game that can be used for other tasks (finding plays, etc.).

When learning to track, some players start by tracking only the power tiles (S's, blanks, JKQXZ) and the four U's.

Knowledge of your opponent's rack can easily influence gameplay in close endgames. For example, if you know that your opponent has a V that can play at only one spot, then block it.

Endgame strategies[edit]

Most of these strategies are best implemented in close endgames:

  • It is generally a good idea to leave one or two tiles in the bag, as opposed to emptying it. Emptying the bag gives your opponent full knowledge of your rack, which can give him an advantage, since he may play out faster. Additionally, if your opponent plays a bingo, you will have an additional turn if one tile is in the bag.
  • If your opponent has an unplayable tile, the "slow-play" strategy works best -- play off your tiles one by one, while leaving your opponent stuck with his unplayable tile.
  • You usually want to find the fastest way to play out, or at least a sequence of moves that gives you the best point spread. In close endgames, it can take several minutes to analyze many different move sequences, so in a timed game, leaving several minutes on your game clock for the endgame is a good idea.
  • Remember to always challenge the out play (unless you are 100% sure it is good). There is no penalty for losing the challenge on an out play.

Example Endgame[edit]

Consider the following position, which occurred in a TWL club game (note: PIEROGIS*). The endgame shows how tile tracking and careful endgame play can turn a losing position into a forced win.

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O
1
WS
T1
  
V4
A1
R1
N1
I1
S1
H4
  
LS
C3
  
WS
2   
O1
B3
E1
  
LS
     
O1
O1
T1
  
L1

WS
  
3
S1
P3
A1
N1
     
V4
O1
X8
     
G2
O1
     
4
A1
  
R1
I1
F4
     
LS
        
U1
N1
  
LS
5
I1
     
N1
U1
              
B3
Y4
E1
     
6
L1

LS
D2
E1
R1
M3
        
LS
A1
  
R1

LS
  
7
I1
  
LS
  
Z10
  
F4
  
A1
A1
L1
  
LS
     
8
N1
     
P3
I1
E1
R1
O1
G2
I1
S1

LS
     
WS
9
G
  
LS
  
E1
  
E1
  
LS
        
LS
     
10   
LS
  
T1
R1
U1
E1
D2
  
LS
        
LS
  
11            
WS
L1
           
WS
           
12
LS
  
D2
I1
Q10
U1
A1
T1
        
WS
     
LS
13   
W4
O1
        
M3
A1
C3
        
WS
     
14   
Y4
A1
G2
  
H4
I1
E1
  
LS
        
WS
  
15
K5
E1
T1
O1
N1
E1
S1

WS
        
LS
     
WS

You: 347, Opp: 387, Your rack: DEEIJT?

From tile tracking, you know that your opponent has a W.

If you look carefully, the only places the W can play are (O)W H3 and W(AG) I6. Both of these plays win for the opponent, so you either want to score 50-60 points to secure a win, or block both spots without giving an opening spot. This is a TWL game (otherwise, J(AI)lED/J(A)# for 56 wins by 1). There are no other high scoring plays, so we will try to block the opponent's out plays. There are no extensions of BYE that prevent the opponent from playing out (DE(BYE) or iN(BYE) do not block (O)W). However, there are a few winning plays through the O on H3, all of them using the blank: (O)xID, (O)bIT, (O)TIc, (O)DIc, (O)mIT. Typically, the blank should not be used for such a low score, but this is a rare exception since there are no other winning plays. (O)TIc H3 4 was played.

After (O)TIc, you can "slow-play" the other tiles and win by 10:

(O)TIc H3 +4 351

JE(E) 9C +23 374

ED J13 +15 389

2*W +8 397, Final score 397-387.